Saturday, May 7, 2011

Simple but Useful Thunderbird Add-ons

I like to keep things simple. Here's some simple but useful Add-ons for Thunderbird. Just go to Tools -> Add-ons -> Get Add-ons  and search for these:

Google Calendar Tab - Adds a button to your Thunderbird Toolbar. Click it and it opens a new tab displaying your Google Calendar in normal browser view. simple.

Toolbar Buttons - An assortment of new buttons that you can drag and drop onto your Thunderbird Toolbar to customize it to your liking. Add a Send/Receive button just like Outlook. I also find the "Toggle Read" button useful to quickly mark emails as "unread" again.

And of course, Google Contacts to keep your Thunderbird contacts synchronized with GMail and your Android phone! The Best Way to Keep Outlook Express Address Book Automatically Synchronized with Google Contacts

Are you tired of your Add-ons getting disabled every time Thunderbird gets a new update? In most cases, this occurs not because it's no longer compatible with the new version of Thunderbird, but simply because a property file for the plugin is reporting an incorrect version range. Here's the best Add-on of all:  Add-on Compatibility Reporter - Keeps your Add-ons active after a Thunderbird update. You can then use them and decide to disable them only if they truly no longer work.

Maybe I should have called this blog Thundernaut instead?  ;-)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Some screenshot comparisons of Thunderbird vs Outlook Express

Here's some snapshots of our previous Outlook Express setup versus our new Thunderbird setup. As you can see they are virtually identical - no learning curve.  Furthermore all the buttons are customizable and can be moved around anyway you choose, so you can make the layout practically identical to Outlook Express if you wish!

Here's our previous Outlook Express:

And here's Thunderbird (email preview): 

(changed setting to open individual email in separate window instead of tab):

(address book):

Pretty much looks the same right? The biggest difference is our contacts now all automatically stay in sync regardless of whether we change them in Thunderbird, Gmail, or our Android phones, without having to do anything manually! For instructions on getting this to work, please read: The Best Way to Keep Outlook Express Address Book Automatically Synchronized with Google Contacts

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Best Way to Keep Outlook Express Address Book Automatically Synchronized with Google Contacts

UPDATE: MAY 30, 2015

Seems like the latest update to Thunderbird 31.7.0 a week or so ago, may have broken the Google Contacts plugin.  It keeps popping up asking for password and no longer updates the contact list.  Several people have commented about it on this on the plugin author's site, but so far there has been no response.

I just tried a different plugin that seems to work well. If you already have Google Contacts installed, first go to Thunderbird Add-ons Manager, click on Extensions and disable Google Contacts and restart.  Then go back and from "Get Add-ons" search for gContactSync  and install that instead...


Jan 22, 2011

My wife and I recently purchased new Android phones. We both love the ability to view our Gmail, Contacts, and Calendar on our phones and automatically keep them all synchronized with our Google accounts. Since we’ve been using Outlook Express for years (and more recently Microsoft Mail) from our home PC's, my wife asked how she could keep her local Windows Address Book automatically synchronized with our phones and Google Contacts. Hmm, I knew there was a manual way to do this, but it’s tedious and the separate contact lists would quickly get out of sync again.

So I began a quest to see what tools or products were available to accomplish this. To my surprise, after several days of research I was not able to find a reasonable solution to this seemingly simple problem. I also found that I was far from the only person looking for a solution to this, and it amazed me that there wasn't an obvious answer. I did find some esoteric open source program that required setting up an LDAP server on my PC, but this was hardly the simple solution I was looking for. There were also several products that can do this with Microsoft Outlook, but I didn't want to install that slow, fat, and expensive program suite on my PC.

Then I found it! Thunderbird, a free email client from the Mozilla Foundation is practically an exact replacement for Outlook Express or Microsoft Mail. It looks the same and acts the same. It's so similar that my wife could easily learn to use it in minutes. The trick to keeping your contacts in sync is a free plugin that's available for it called Google Contacts. It uses your Google Contact list and keeps it synchronized in Thunderbird. So ironically, I found that the best solution to keeping Outlook Express in sync with Google Contacts is to get rid of Outlook Express!

I find Thunderbird to be a superior product than both Outlook Express and Microsoft Mail. It is faster, supports both POP or IMAP protocols, and it even resolved an issue I was having with Microsoft Mail constantly giving me errors when accessing multiple IMAP accounts. Installing Thunderbird and setting it up takes only minutes. I will show you how to do it and give you some tips along the way.

1. First decide if you want to access your email via POP or IMAP. POP downloads all your emails and keeps a local copy of them on your PC's hard drive. IMAP is more dynamic view of your emails with folders (Labels) as they appear on your Gmail account. I prefer IMAP because it can be configured to be faster than POP, it can save space on your hard drive, and creating new email folders automatically creates corresponding Gmail Label folders on your Gmail account and keeps these in sync as well (and creating Labels when logged into Gmail automatically displays these folders in Thunderbird - a really nice feature).

2. If you decide on IMAP, first make sure your Gmail account has this feature turned on. Browse to and log into your account. Click on Settings in the upper right and click the Forwarding and POP/IMAP heading. Make sure that "Enable IMAP" is selected and click Save Changes.

3. Get Thunderbird here: It downloads and installs quickly and easily (if at any point it asks if you want to import settings from Outlook or some other email program, I recommend saying no). The first time you launch it, Thunderbird will ask for your name, email address, and password, enter it and click Continue. (If for some reason you don’t see this, click Tools->Account Settings, and under Account Actions select Add Mail Account…)

4. The Mail Account Setup dialog will now display. If you’ve entered your Gmail account info correctly, Thunderbird will test the connection and automatically use the best settings to access your account. Select whether you want Thunderbird to use IMAP (recommended) or POP. Click Create Account and you are done. I highly recommend tweaking some of the default settings to your preferences. I will post some tips for making Thunderbird work even better and faster with Gmail soon.

5. To make Thunderbird sync up with your Gmail Contacts, select Tools->Add-ons. In the Add-ons dialog, type Google Contacts in the search field and hit enter. The Google Contacts extension should appear, select it and click Add to Thunderbird…  You will get a standard warning about only installing plugins from authors you trust. Click on the Install Now button. After the extension downloads and installs, click the Restart Thunderbird button to complete the install.

6. When Thunderbird restarts, click the Address Book button in the toolbar. In the address book, you will see three address books listed in the left column. Two of these, Personal Address Book and Collected Addresses are default Thunderbird address lists which you will probably not be using (at this time they cannot be deleted but I’ve sent a request to Mozilla about this. Not a big deal though). The third address list name will start with “Google-“ and contain your email address. If you right-click on it and select Properties, you can change the name to whatever you like.

7. Click on your address list and your Google Contacts will display in the Address Book. If you are writing a new email, you can just start to type an email address in the To: field, and any matching Contacts will appear. You can also launch the Address Book when writing an email from the Tools->Address Book menu. To add a convenient toolbar button to make the Address Book easily available when writing an email, click the Write button to compose a new email, right-click the Tool Bar and select Customize…, then drag the Address Book icon to the Tool Bar and click done.

Now, whenever you add or change a contact in your Google contact list in Thunderbird, the change will automatically be reflected in your Gmail account contacts (and your Android phone when it syncs up with your Google account).  Likewise when you update a contact in Gmail (or your Android phone), the change will be reflected in Thunderbird in your Google address list (this can take a little time, but can be tweaked in the Add-on settings, but that’s for another post ;-) 

I just added a new post showing how similar Thunderbird looks and behaves just like Outlook Express at: Some screenshot comparisons of Thunderbird vs Outlook Express

Here's some good Thunderbird Add-ons that I use and have found very useful: Simple but Useful Thunderbird Add-ons